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Survivor Stories 2015:
Luana DeAngelis

 

1. How did you first find out you had cancer?

I found a large lump in my breast, and after a long awaited “routine” sonar appointment, the doctor diagnosed me with invasive breast cancer.

2. How did you react when you heard the news?

I was emotional and fearful, but used my background in natural health to use early palliative care to address these aspects of my experience.

3. What course of treatment were you prescribed?

I used an integrated method of care, which means that in conjunction with medical care, I also used holistic modalities.

I recognized the importance of early palliative care in my treatment. Palliative care is not just end of life care. Most cancer care is outpatient, but we associate palliative as end-of-life because traditionally, hospitals or hospice only give it when a patient is confined to bed. Early palliative care (ie: integrative care) can help reduce symptoms and manage pain—it can help people live a healthier life. A healthier life is a longer, and more balanced life.

4. What most surprised you about your treatment?

When I was first diagnosed, I never considered a mastectomy—pre-emptive strikes on my body were simply out of the question. But then I went through six biopsies in the first six years after cancer. Every time I had to go for a mammogram, it brought back the memory, fear and trauma of being diagnosed. Then, to get the call back saying “we found something we don’t like,” having to endure another biopsy and wait for days afterwards, only to find out it’s negative or, worse, positive, is extremely excruciating. It’s also one of the main reasons women choose prophylactic mastectomies, and I was surprised to find myself considering that choice as well. The stress aspect has to be addressed.

5. What would your advice be to anyone who’s just received a cancer diagnosis?

You are not alone and there is so much you can do to thrive through and after this experience. No matter what the prognosis, you are going to be all right.

6. How long have you been cancer free?

I was diagnosed with breast cancer eleven years ago.

7. What lessons did you learn from the experience?

As a young person dealing with cancer, one of the most important things for me to understand was stress reduction. You can get through treatment, but how do you reduce that feeling of fear and lack of control? The feeling that my body has turned on me—how do I have any power over this? I felt this figurative ‘axe’ perpetually hanging over my head, and it really disturbed me. You can remove the cancer tumor, but you’re still in fear. The post-traumatic stress that’s associated with being diagnosed returns every time you go back to the doctor or put your hand on the door of where you got your treatment. For me, that constant feeling of fear was the most important aspect in need of healing.

Community is the final stage in healing, so when you create it and find meaning in this experience, then you move to a state of healing where you’re no longer suffering.

The pain that goes along with the diagnosis is inevitable, but suffering is entirely optional.

8. If you could send one message to all the Good Enough Mothers out there – what would it be?

Breast cancer is so many different diseases, it’s very important to know that. It’s a long road and even though someone may not look like they are sick, the chances are if they’ve been diagnosed, they’re on a very long journey. Don’t try to give them advice, just listen and ask them, “How can I help?”

 

Luana DeAngelis is a patient navigator and founder of You Can Thrive!, an integrative survivorship center in New York City